Friday, October 25, 2013

Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower by Zachary Ernst

I read this last night. It is a clear, savvy, and erudite impression of the major problems that plague the university system, humanities departments, and academia at large…please read immediately!
--Colin A. Cox

I'm leaving my position as a tenured Associate Professor of Philosophy and taking a job in the private sector. By any normal standards, my academic job was excellent. I was tenured at a Research-1 institution, in a department with a growing PhD program. I had a lot of freedom to pursue the kind of research and teaching that I wanted. And I used that freedom to pursue a lot of diverse interests. My students -- especially my graduate students -- were excellent. I enjoy teaching, and I also happen to believe that philosophy is increasingly important and relevant.

I should begin by acknowledging that I've had some major and sometimes quite public conflicts with my home department and administration, especially about their treatment of my spouse, which I strongly believe to be the result of highly sexist attitudes. And to be perfectly honest, those conflicts and the resulting fallout certainly played a role in my decision to leave. However, I've been preparing my exit from the university for several years, long before those conflicts erupted. For a long time, I've been the uncomfortable owner of a coveted faculty position that I didn't want.

My decision to leave isn't really about my department or university in particular, but about a perverse incentive structure that maintains the status quo, rewards mediocrity, and discourages potentially high-impact, interdisciplinary work. My complaints are really about the structural features of the university, and not about the behavior of particular people. Although I believe that my university is unusually bad in these respects, I think these structural features are quite common.

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